Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Tuberculosis Germs Surround Us

by Rachel Fellman 

Recently, while working on a project in one of our many storage areas, I spotted this large sign. It was listed on our spreadsheet simply as “framed tuberculosis poem” -- but it’s not a poem, it’s a warning to patients not to come near their visiting children.

photo by the author

The design of the sign fascinated me: the stern Gothic lettering, applied by a skilled hand, combined with surprisingly jolly cartoon drawings of “tuberculosis germs.” The drawings seem like an attempt to lighten the mood, but for the children in question -- standing awkwardly on the forbidden floor, unable to accept their sick parent's gifts or look at them from closer than six feet away -- I doubt it helped much.

photo by the author

The only further clue to the sign's provenance was a small label: “Medical Science, January 1967-February 1968.” It might have hung in the Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital in Salem, which operated until 1969; it might also be a relic of the tuberculosis hospital on OHSU’s Marquam Hill campus, which closed in 1963. The sign also features two Crosses of Lorraine, symbol of the fight against tuberculosis. (Today, these might have been awareness ribbons: the one for tuberculosis is bright red.)

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